US State Proposes Rule on Fracking Waste Wells and Earthquakes
Oil and gas operators in Texas would have to check an area's seismic history before drilling a new waste disposal well, and state regulators would be able to shut down disposal wells that are linked to earthquakes, under a proposal approved today by the Texas Railroad Commission.
The proposed rule will be published later this month and subject to a 30-day comment period, the commissioners said during their meeting today.
Texas and other oil-producing states have been experiencing a wave of small earthquakes. Researchers have linked the shaking to disposal wells used to get rid of wastewater from oil and gas operations. Hydraulic fracturing, the practice of breaking up rock formations with a mix of water and chemicals, isn't thought to contribute to most earthquakes, but it creates large amounts of wastewater.
About 850 residents attended a meeting with Railroad Commission staffers in January after a string of small earthquakes struck near Azle and Reno, Texas, which are suburbs of Fort Worth.
The Railroad Commission inspected disposal wells in the area but argued that it didn't have authority to shut down a well based solely on earthquakes. Texas has about 50,000 Class II injection wells, the type used to dispose of oil and gas waste.
The new rule says the Railroad Commission can shut down a disposal well or modify its permit if it's "suspected of or shown to be causing seismic activity."
Operators would have to check U.S. Geological Survey records and determine whether any earthquakes had occurred within a specific radius of a proposed injection well. The zone would be determined by calculating the area where underground pressure is expected to increase by 5 pounds per square inch within 10 years of the injection well's operation.
If a well is drilled in an area where there's a possibility for underground fluid migration, operators would have to submit additional documents such as logs and test results to show the well is safe.
The proposed rule's language is still ambivalent about a link between injection wells and seismicity, saying "while few earthquakes have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation, seismic events have infrequently occurred in areas where there is coincident oil and gas activity."
A Railroad Commission spokeswoman didn't respond to an interview request today. The three commissioners, Republicans who are elected statewide, approved the proposal unanimously during their meeting this morning.
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